2014-2015 Continuation Grant Recipient
Working Narratives (Wilmington, NC) and M.U.G.A.B.E.E. (Utica, MS) launched the public performance art project Black Man Running as part of a NET/TEN Exchange Grant in 2012-13. Its premiere performance involved dozens of artists, a documentation team and some 400 participant runners. Taking place in a park named for a Klu Klux Klan member, Black Man Running was public art and a social statement, and an organizing tool.
A critical aspect of the project was our weekly Free Movement running team gathering, which now has run, walked, and organized together for nearly two years. Free Movement running team has become a vital part of our organizational culture and is incorporated into our new productions as well as our community engagement, development, and presenting work. Our model invites folks to run, walk, or roll with us - and they have in surprising numbers.
Here are ten steps we took to organize our “Free Movement” running team and create public art space. Follow them to create your own Free Movement Project
- Working Narrative and M.U.G.A.B.E.E.
Ten steps to hacking a 5K run into a “Free Movement” public art space
1) Build your team. We pitched our weekly running group at local churches and community centers, garnering many of our earliest participants from diverse local partners. Then we walked and eventually jogged our community. We mapped a route from our office that crossed sharp lines of gentrification and passed by historical sites and other important neighborhood landmarks. We traversed our route designedly, stopping to talk to folks along the way. We then held a community meeting that focused on building a culture of health together. Dozens showed up, and we did a story circle about our earliest running memories. These memories reflected the American experience and its many race, gender and class narratives. In collaboration with our community partners, we designed shirts so we would be easily identifiable as the Free Movement runners. (We also took the conscientious step of joining Road Runners of America and purchasing their general liability insurance.)
2) Map your route. What if I asked you to plot a run through your community? How would you do it? Think about your neighborhood. Think of which way you would turn and when? Think of the map you’d see in your head. What are the lines of demarcation? Are there places you wouldn’t go? Would you respect certain borders? How would you prepare for your journey? Would you take a cell phone? Would you team up with a spouse or friend, or would you run alone? Running reveals how we internalize and externalize demography, and how we perceive public space. For people of color, the process is particularly fraught. Our weekly runs depart from outside our office where we set up a drink table and literature. We mapped routes of resistance that challenged traditional notions of who owns public space. To create support, we knocked on the doors of people who lived along our route. You know you have done your work when folks yell out encouragement as your group runs along. Over the last year we have developed several routes and switch them up.
3) Foster a culture of health. Central to our running group’s work is creating a culture of health in our community. For us, that means addressing the historic damage done by Jim Crow and addressing issues of gentrification and displacement. We ask our participants to share with us, to tell us what a culture of health means to them and then look for ways our organization can respond. Participants run because they are living with combat PTSD, dealing with discrimination, fighting for their health.
4) Be a beating heart. Storytelling for justice should be central and ongoing. Our Free Movement runs are weekly, year round. Having an ongoing presence in the community has deepened our relationship. Our asks for support for other projects have become more fluid, since folks see our dedication to the community. Sweating together, our organizing and outreach work has gone deeper and our relationships have strengthened.
5) Create a moveable feast of networking. We invited individuals we were interested in partnering with to our weekly run as an icebreaker. For instance, we walked our route with members of the faith community when we asked them to envision a community justice parade. As we walked and jogged with veterans, we had long conversations with them about presenting Carpetbag Theater’s play “Speed Killed My Cousin” that address PTSD. As we move around town, we’re recognized as “those Free Movement runners.”
6) Document everything. Our documentation of Free Movement produced hundreds of photos and videos of our community. We hired local photographers to take photos of our work and process and share them in dedicated social media spaces. Our running team network cuts across traditional race, geographic, class, and cultural boundaries, and our documentation points to an interconnected, diverse and strong group. Once you have run and walked with people for miles through the heat and cold and rain and snow, you’ve deeply bonded.
7) Connect to your community. When a team member suggested we watch the presidential debate together we organized a run and viewing. Dozens of participants showed up. Our arts space suddenly a space for public discourse. Other organizations in our community have begun to see the running group as a resource for outreach and networking. Our community partners in other cities have begun to ask us to integrate Free Movement into our work with them. In the future, we plan on holding workshops that explore community issues by creating run routes and maps. Organizationally, it is often hard for us to always be completely responsive to community needs, but our weekly running group affords us a point of engagement.
8) Step into the process. Free Movement has become part of our organizational culture. That at times feels surprising, but in reality it makes sense. When dialoguing and planning we use our running team as a resource, as a way to receive constructive feedback on our most important projects.
9) Create residency space. To date we have offered several artist residencies with our running community. This has expanded our community space, by miles. We have deepened our relationship with hundreds of individuals and dozens of neighborhood partners. When out of town visitors come, we ask them to bring walking/running shoes.
10) Run, walk, and roll together. There are challenges to our model. Points of entry are not always easy, and sometimes the running interferes with other work, but in the end we have found that the benefits far outway the drawbacks, that running is a valuable tool for community engagement. If you are in our neck of North Carolina on a Monday night around 6:30pm, come run with us.
We are more than happy to talk with people about hacking their own 5K run and creating a Free Movement in their community. A few useful resources and tips:
Contact us at [email protected] if you have any questions and come run, walk, or roll with us in you are ever in North Carolina - or better yet invite us to organize a run in your community.